2022 Human Rights Awards Dinner Celebrates Victories, Calls for Action
Remarks by Robin Phillips, executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights, at the June 22, 2022 Human Rights Awards Dinner.
Good evening and welcome.
Wow . . . it has been three years since I have been able to
say that. It is hard to overstate how much we have been looking forward to
being together this year. We are also happy to welcome those of you joining us
on-line. Thank you, each and every one of you, for being here tonight.
Over the years, this gathering of our community has been a
celebration of our shared values. It reaffirms our commitment to justice and a
world where every person can live with dignity and equality.
We have seen the struggles in the nonprofit community up
close. You have always been a big morale boost for our staff and for me. We do
not take you for granted!
You -- this extraordinary community of human rights activists
- are not only the reason we exist, but you build us up, and sustain our
spirits in these challenging times. It is so thrilling to see so many of you who
have been part of the legacy of The Advocates.
I would like to take a few minutes to recognize a human
rights giant who left us this year. David Weissbrodt was a co-founder and
guardian of the The Advocates for Human Rights over its many years. David
passed away in November. He leaves a tremendous legacy of human rights
activists who were his students or who worked in one of the many organizations like
The Advocates, that David helped to start.
For us, David provided vision early on in the organization's
history. Later, he provided stability and guidance to get us through some
difficult bumps in the road. I am personally grateful for all the times David showed
up and made the load manageable. And so, tonight, in David's honor, we will
celebrate all of the reasons to be hopeful that human rights and the rule of
law will prevail in the United States and around the world.
Our law firm supporters are doing more than ever. Because of
you, we have been able to rise to the challenge of providing legal support to
Afghan evacuees who were brought into the country last year without permanent
status. Thanks to so many of you who have stepped up and volunteered to take an
asylum case. To those of you who are thinking about taking a case and wondering
if it will make a difference, I can assure you it will.
We have seen our efforts with our international partners in
the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty result in abolition of the death
penalty in several countries, including Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea, and the
Central African Republic. Just last month promising legislation was introduced,
with Presidential support, to abolish the death penalty in Liberia and Zambia.
We still have our work cut out for us. We documented the
strategy and movement behind what we have called the "radical right." It is a
sustained effort to roll back important advancements in human rights for women,
refugees, immigrants, and LGBTQI-plus individuals. We published a report
outlining tactics used to defeat efforts to ratify the Istanbul Convention, the
European Convention to eliminate violence against women.
We have seen increased efforts by some, including white
nationalists, to reduce protections in civil and human rights here in the
United States. These efforts include a decades-long strategy to abolish women's
access to safe, reproductive services. Sadly, we're seeing some of the hateful strategies
used in the United States being replicated around the world.
We are committed to protecting important human rights
victories of the past. And we are committed to making even more progress in the
future. The stakes are high, and the whole world is being affected by these
threats to humanity and all we stand for.
No one sees this more clearly than our honoree and recipient
of the Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award, Neil Datta. Neil has been a
leader in standing up to these international efforts even in the face of
threats to his own safety.
Tonight, we will celebrate Neil, Fey y Justicia, and all the
extraordinary volunteers working to protect human rights.
We measure victory one life at a time. For example, Bridget,
one of our board members, fled Zimbabwe because of persecution. She sought
safety here in the United States. Throughout the pandemic, Bridget worked
tirelessly to provide health care to individuals suffering from Covid. She was
forced to wait more than six years for her hearing -- an outrageous and
indefensible length of time to have her life on hold. And then, In the days
before the hearing, the government tried to dismiss her case outright. Her pro
bono lawyer fought the motion and was able to keep the scheduled date. I am
happy to report that a few weeks ago, Bridget was granted asylum. Bridget is
here with us tonight and you will see her later as she closes out our program.
In addition to providing essential services here in the
United States, many of our clients are also making a difference in their home
countries by providing first-hand information to the United Nations. In the past four years, more than 70 current and
former clients have shared their personal experiences of human rights abuses. Our
clients have brought their most powerful weapon - the truth of their
experiences - to hold their governments accountable for their human rights
violations. One client, who was jailed multiple times as a prisoner of
conscience in Ethiopia, was able to directly address the Human Rights Council
about Ethiopia's human rights practices. He was not only speaking for himself,
but for others who are still in Ethiopia and not able to speak out.
You are making a difference. Your time, your financial
resources, your volunteer efforts, your moral support, and good intentions, they
all make a difference.
We remain hopeful because of you, and because we believe in the famous words of Martin Luther King, Jr., that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Thank you!